Label and packaging production wasn’t a strong keynote of the recent EFI Connect users conference, but the event did include the launch of a new way to extend the capabilities of EFI software currently at work in hundreds of label and packaging plants. David Taylor, general manager of EFI's Productivity Software Enterprise Segment, talked about the structure and applications of EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite in a post-Connect conversation with WhatTheyThink.

Packaging industry watchers will remember Taylor as the former president and CEO of Radius Software Ltd., acquired by EFI in 2010. Radius-developed software for management information systems (MIS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) functionality sits at the heart of EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite and forms the base of the user segment at which the solution is aimed. 

Taylor said that Radius software components are handling MIS/ERP chores in about 400 label and packaging plants, including nine of the top 10 label printing companies. These users will be told that with EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite, they can ramp up what Radius already does for them with new tools for process improvement in the production of labels, folding cartons, and flexible packaging. 

Also promised is the efficiency of “certified workflows” in which EFI guarantees the connectivity and performance of the software modules involved.

Originally conceived for packaging, Radius software manages a host of basic business tasks such as estimating, costing, scheduling, and inventory management. Add-ons give it capability in shop floor data collection, quality management, and customer portal creation, among other areas.

Taylor described EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite as a framework that lets Radius users surround their existing Radius assets with new, profit-generating features for cross media marketing, customer relationship management, and global resource optimization. Other enhancements are intended to bring new levels of sophistication to production control and data analysis and reporting.

An example, said Taylor, is PrintFlow for Packaging, a scheduling solution for automating and streamlining packaging production workflows. It creates rule-based production schemes that remove constraints and bottlenecks by taking into account the availability of tools, crews, machines, and materials. Its underlying concept, said Taylor, is the Theory of Global Optimization (TGO), a body of manufacturing principles developed by Udi Arieli, senior director of product management at EFI.

Another aim of EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite is to give managers better insight into data generated during production so that the information can be used to help optimize future jobs. This is the province of Business Intelligence, EFI’s software for mining and analyzing transactional data. Taylor said that as an adjunct to Radius, Business Intelligence transforms the data into resources for predictive planning and forecasting. Its capabilities include what-if analysis to measure the effects that changes in job variables could have on productivity and profitability.

Taylor said that the key to workflow automation is making certain that the software pieces “talk in unison” from one end of the process to the other. EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite seeks to accomplish this by defining certain workflow scenarios and warranting that their software components will work together to complete the tasks specified by the workflows. The promise of end-to-end integration in these “certified workflows” covers any third-party software they may contain as well as their EFI ingredients.

About 20 certified workflows now exist, and Taylor said that all of them can be applied to packaging production. One, for example, combines the Radius modules Packaging Scheduling Assistant (PSA), Process Shipper, and Open Accounts with Esko’s ArtiosCAD and Automation Engine. Another certified workflow can be assembled from Radius PrintFlow, CRM, Portal, Process Shipper, and Open Accounts. The list of certified workflows will grow as Radius installation sites learn to make greater use of EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite and its capabilities, Taylor said. 

Because EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite is modular, users can build it selectively from task-specific Radius components or acquire everything at once to gain the framework’s full range of capabilities. Taylor said that EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite can be made to work with MIS setups from sources other than EFI. Its compatibility with digital front ends, however, is limited to EFI Fiery servers.

Although most users of EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite self-host the software, some depend on EFI or another third party to do the hosting. Taylor said EFI is seeing a growing trend among packaging companies to operate under a SaaS (software as a service) model.

Asked to comment on the cost of bringing EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite into a label or a packaging production environment, he drew a comparison between it and enterprise software from business solutions developer SAP. Costs associated with deploying SAP software and services typically come to between 3% and 4% of a user’s annual revenue, he said, whereas the charge for EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite would be in the 1% to 2% range depending on the level of automation desired.

Taylor added that some companies spend more, while others engage EFI as a provider of consulting services for best practices in enterprise management.

The launch of EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite gained momentum with last week’s announcement that JohnsByrne, a leading packaging converter and a longtime EFI MIS user, has decided to install Radius packaging ERP software as well. According to the announcement, JohnsByrne believes that the packaging-centric platform it is adopting with EFI Radius will enhance its ability to access and analyze production data and financial metrics in real time.

Taylor said that EFI Enterprise Packaging Suite is a good example of how EFI is coordinating and targeting its software assets to make them easy for customers to access no matter what EFI MIS/ERP platforms they may be using. He added that there has been an ongoing cross-pollination of Radius and EFI packaging software technologies ever since the corporate acquisition closed nearly five years ago.